SUNY Adopts System-Wide Diversity and Inclusion Policy

In an attempt to make its campuses more inclusive, the State University of New York instituted a system-wide policy at its first academic meeting of the year, held on Sept. 10, designed to make the university a national leader in diversity and inclusion.

The policy includes each SUNY campus hiring a chief diversity officer (CDO) and developing a comprehensive diversity plan to boost student and faculty recruitment and retention. University faculty and staff will also be required to participate in cultural competency training, and new hires will be selected from diverse candidate pools.

Students will experience the policy’s most immediate effects this fall, when they go to register for spring classes. They will now have the option to self-identify their sexual orientation, gender identity, and whether they are a first-generation college student, active military or veteran, or have a disability. This data will help campuses track academic outcomes and graduation rates for specific groups and provide support where needed.

“We want to be able to know these things about our students and then track their attainment and outcomes, because we want to know if there are any differences,” SUNY Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Alexander Cartwright told the Times Union. “If we find out that our veterans aren’t graduating as much as other students, we need to do something about that. This gives us a way to see that.”

The policy is a result of the creation of a system-wide task force on diversity — which Cartwright co-chaired — established in January 2014 by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. The task force, made up of 28 stakeholders across the state, reviewed best practices from across the country, including those set forth by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) in October 2014.

Nearly two dozen of SUNY’s 64 campuses already have a CDO (see a January 2015 map of which ones here). Colleges that haven’t yet appointed someone to the position must do so before the start of the 2017 academic year. The CDO will report directly to senior administration and work closely with their college’s academic affairs, human resources, enrollment management, and admissions offices to implement and achieve campus-wide diversity goals.

SUNY prides itself on a broad definition of diversity, which covers race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, individuals with disabilities, veterans, first-generation students, and beyond.

The goal of this new policy, Cartwright says, is not to compel schools to fill quotas in these categories, but to ensure that all students feel welcome and supported.

“If anybody walks onto one of our campuses, they should feel at home — any new student, regardless of where they’re from or whether they speak a different language; that shouldn’t matter,” he said. “They should feel like this is a place that they can feel at home. Because people wind up leaving when they don’t. That shouldn’t happen.”

Each campus will also be evaluated on its efforts. Annual progress reports will determine whether a campus has met the goals and outcomes it set for itself in its comprehensive diversity plan, which must be submitted to Cartwright by Sept. 1, 2016.